‘This is How it Ends’

I had been desperate to read This is How it Ends since receiving it at a work thing and I featured it as my Cover Design of the Month for April and I wasn’t disappointed!

It is an absolutely beautiful book, the photo above doesn’t do it justice! Bear in mind that this is a proof AND that it has become a little battered in my bag…but hopefully this gives you an idea of the foil detail!

A stunning book that your bookshelf deserves to be friends with!

Anyway, there’s a lot more to this book than the gorgeous cover…This is How it Ends by Kathleen MacMahon is

“A story of unexpected, live changing love”

What is so refreshing about this love story, in addition to the unexpectedness and the old ‘Stop looking for love, it will find you’ thing…instead of two young protagonists who are unexperienced, awkward and think they know everything about the world…our lovers have lived, loved and lost.

The book opens as Bruno, a New Yorker in his late forties (not ‘nearly fifty’, a distinction that Addie is keen to maintain) is on a flight to Ireland after losing his banking job with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and he decides to try and reconnect with his extended Irish family…much to their initial delight! The relatives whom he is trying to connect with are Addie, an out of work architect/swimming enthusiast who is currently a live-in carer for her father…only because he has broken both arms mind, not because he is unable to care for himself! However, he has also been suspended from his work as a doctor so there is little to keep him occupied during the day…which makes him (and Addie) feel very claustrophobic!

Anyway despite impressive efforts to avoid him, Addie finally meets Bruno and they fall in love. It’s not all plain sailing along the way but the book reminds you that life is for living and that you shouldn’t waste a second of it!

‘Pillow Book of the Flower Samurai’

For once, I’m speechless! I have NO clue where to begin about this book, it is powerful, beautiful, tragic, harrowing and an absolutely wonderful read!

What you can’t tell from the visual above is the beautiful foil detailing, which I am told is done using a matte foil to give a more antique-y feel. It is an absolutely beautiful cover, designed by Yeti Lambregts at Headline and I can’t wait to get a hardback copy for my shelves!

I’ve made a semi-radical decision…I’m not going to give ANYTHING away about this book because you simply MUST read this when it is published! You won’t regret it! All I will say is that if you enjoy books like A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Calligrapher’s Daughter…you will relish every page of this book and be touched by the story of its heroine Kozaisho.

The hardback will be published 05.07.12 (ISBN: 9780755389254) and the paperback will follow 17.01.13 (ISBN: 9780755389285) but it is a wonderful book that you must read!

’22 Britannia Road’

I was given a copy of this book at a Penguin Blogger Event and I’m so glad! If the cover hadn’t grab my attention (which it did!), the author read a sample from the beginning of the book and I was hooked!

Anyway, Amanda Hodgkinson’s novel is a fantastic read which shows a different perspective of WW2 and highlights the strength of love in the face of adversity. The book starts as Silvana and her son Aurek are waiting to board the ship that will take them to Britain, where Silvana’s husband Janusz now lives. The family have been separated for six years and in that time, all of them have endured and survived indescribable inhumanity while the world was at war.

As Silvana and Aurek try to settle into a normal life, Janusz is desperately trying to fit into the English way of life (inviting people for numerous cups of tea and keeping a tidy garden etc.). Although they all knew it would be hard to adjust after such a long time apart, because there is so little talk of what they actually experienced in the war…there is so little understanding between them! It becomes clear towards the end of the novel that although they don’t want to recollect the horrors that they have experienced, some things need to be said. Although Silvana lived a relatively normal life in Warsaw before the war began, Aurek was just a baby when Janusz had to go to war and various events meant that Silvana and Aurek spent most of the war hiding in the forest and Janusz seems embarrassed of his unruly/primitive behavior throughout the first half of the book and yet desperate for Aurek to reciprocate his love. Hodgkinson’s writing is so beautifully and honestly realistic that I went through a real mixture of emotions…I smiled when Janusz offered people tea for the sake of it, I felt awkward when Aurek was ‘misbehaving’ in public and I felt so desperately sad and sympathetic for Silvana when her child finally begins to bond with ‘the enemy’ (as Aurek describes him), Janusz because although you can tell that she wants Aurek to have a relationship with his father, it was just the two of them for such a long time and their relationship was so intense because of the situation that it must have been very difficult to see him running to his father before coming to her.

But it isn’t just the struggle of the war years that is apparent throughout the book, it is the struggles of every day life that were so poignant and so wonderfully described. I found myself gushing as Aurek’s descriptions of Janusz as ‘the enemy’ slowly faded and he let him into his life – the moment where he thinks (something along the lines of…)

‘If the enemy tries to hug me, I will let him’

…really warmed my heart!

This is a fabulously well-written book, which shows you the war from another point of view, without preaching or repeating previously explored perspectives of life in wartime. Wonderful descriptions, honest characters and a touching narrative!

‘The Night Circus’

“The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

This book is absolutely enchanting! I have heard that it has received quite mixed reviews but I absolutely loved it!

From the outset I was swept along with the magic of the circus, desperately wishing that I could be there, but feeling like I already was! The structure was essential in making the reader feel that they were visiting the circus as the novel was split into various sections from various perspectives. In one chapter you’d be walking through the circus into various tents, the sights and smells being described so wonderfully that you could taste the sweet cinnamon buns and smell the warm cocoa! Then you’d be whisked off to Chandresh’s mansion where you’d watch the events of the ‘Inclement Weather Parties’ or the fantastically mysterious dinner parties…then you’d visit Bailey, a true circus lover and take another different look at the Cirque du Reves. This book is truly wonderful!

Our two main characters, Celia and Marco, are bound together before they even meet in a twisted duel, organised by two bitter, expiring men – one of whom is Celia’s father, not that he acts like it! The circus brings them together with a host of other wonderfully unique characters and multiple threads of mysterious narrative, which make the book really hard to put down, almost as if it bewitched me as I read the words on the page. The book spans several years, during which time we really get a chance to watch the characters grow! Especially the twins, Poppet and Widget, who were born on the day that the circus opened for the first time! I don’t want to give too much away about the plot because I think it would ruin the magic a bit…but if you’re a dreamer, or a “reveur”…like me! You will cherish this book and recommend it to your family, friends and everyone who you wish to be a part of the magic!

The cover design is bold and striking! The book is a wonderful, magical read, which I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone!

‘The Book of Summers’

This is an incredible book! Absolutely stunning!

Right, swooning over…for the time being! The Book of Summers is the debut novel of Emylia Hall and it is simply wonderful! Our protagonist is Beth Lowe, an artist living in London. The book opens as Beth is getting ready for her father to come and visit. It becomes clear that their relationship is quite strained and when he arrives, he hands Beth a parcel that arrived for her…from Hungary. This sparks a disagreement, which results in her father leaving immediately for Devon…Beth finds herself holding the parcel that she so desperately did not want anything to do with. She recognises the handwriting and decides to open the parcel…soon Beth is forced to remember times that she had tried in vain to forget as inside the parcel is a book, full of photos and memories from her summer holidays in Hungary entitled, The Book of Summers.

Beth takes us through the book, summer by summer…recollecting the sights, smells, tastes, experiences and emotions that she felt during those holidays. This book is written so honestly and beautifully that it really is a joy to read. I have never been to Hungary, but I am genuinely keen to go at some point now! You can read this book ANYWHERE and yet imagine yourself exploring rural Hungary! I mainly read this during my commute to and from work and was amazingly able to ignore the insane people on my train and escape! As Beth recollects summer after summer, I became more and more determined to find out what went so terribly wrong on her seventh summer – why doesn’t Beth want to remember those moments?! Why doesn’t she get along with her father? The strength of Hall’s writing lies in the realism of the characters and the empathy that we feel throughout each and every moment with Beth. I really felt like I was privy to someone’s deepest and most precious memories, but it was written so naturally that I didn’t feel like I was intruding…I just felt like I was there with Beth in the park, in her flat, exploring Zoltan’s garden, watching two young people fall in love purely and honestly.

This is a truly wonderful book which offers an escape into a world, so different from our own and yet within reach! This is a must-read! Not just for the summer, but for any time that you need to escape into beautiful imagery, wonderful descriptions and simply read about love, without cliche or pretension.

‘Starter for Ten’

I love it when authors continue to write brilliant books without simply copying the winning formulae from their previously successful books. David Nicholls is one of those authors…I have read his books in the wrong order…but this hasn’t ruined the fun. The “correct” order would have been…

1) Starter for Ten

2) The Understudy

3) One Day

This book was recommended to me by a friend and I am very grateful to her for it! I was laughing and sniggering throughout! This is the first non-autobiographical book that has made me laugh! I mean there were are lots of moments in various books that make me chuckle, especially poor Stephen C McQueen (no relation)’s escapades in The Understudy but I was smiling the WHOLE way through this one!

Poor poor protagonist Brian…a character who we can feel comfortable laughing at because we’ve been in similar situations ourselves, we can relate to him! We meet Brian in the 80s shortly before he heads off to University…with acne-covered skin, a penchant for quizzes and an obsession with the work of Kate Bush, he is a brilliant character and yet, he is extremely ordinary. What is hilarious throughout the book is that Brian is unaware of his ordinariness…in fact, it seems that he is waiting for the world to discover how wonderful he is. The only problem is…that those people (unless they are true geniuses…or audition for Big Brother…) usually get brought back to Earth with a bang!

Anyway, Brian goes off to University with big dreams! He is going to attend every single lecture without fail, concentrate on his studies and be one of lives achievers!

This mentality lasts for less than one night as he becomes enchanted by a girl called Alice, one of those beautiful girls who we all knew at University who led boys on and played the innocent victim of unwanted feelings – however, Brian was a bit too keen…so he becomes besotted with Alice, which leads to the inevitable fall. Along the way he auditions for ‘University Challenge’, experiences those moments that we all shared at University (i.e. being told to keep the noise down, not doing as well in an essay as you’d hoped – even if you didn’t put as much effort in as usual, saying something stupid in a nervous moment, which leads to you looking like a fool…trying to work out who we are/who we want to become, first major hangover…etc. etc.) and learns a LOT about himself – not so much about “Eng Lit”.

This book is a joy to read, even if there were parts that I couldn’t personally relate to, those things happened to friends of mine! Although in a ‘Napoleon Dynamite-esque’ way, nothing massively exciting happens, Nicholls’ style of writing is so smooth and enjoyable! The book describes life for one ordinary boy going to University in the 80s…there are plenty of subtle references to life in the 80s, without being too overpowering and frankly, it is hilarious!

This would be a great present for someone starting University, someone currently at University, someone who has been through University…hell, it would be a great present for anyone! 

‘The Sense of an Ending’

This is the first book that I’ve read by Julian Barnes and if I’m honest, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It was interesting to read this shortly after finishing Before I go to sleep because in both books, memory plays a key role. Our protagonist is Tony, a normal, unremarkable man who finds himself nearing the end of his life and reflecting on various events…you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that this doesn’t exactly grab the imagination but the seemingly simple narrative is complicated by an unexpected suicide and Tony’s unreliable memory…

The first half of the book moves very swiftly through Tony’s life and doesn’t faff around. The second half of the book takes more time to try and piece together Tony’s disjointed memory…I found that my reading pace matched the narrative throughout…I flew through the first half and suddenly Tony was an old man! I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of school life and feel that this sentence sums up the school lives of Tony and his friends…

 “…the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit.”

While at school, the gang of four (previously three until Adrian Finn joins the clique) bumble along quite contently…then a short while after leaving school, they hear that Adrian has committed suicide and Tony and the other boys drift apart…Years later, Tony receives a letter from a lawyer which throws things into disarray and Tony finds himself reliving events from 40 years before and being in that situation that we all hate…remembering times when we’ve said something in youth that we now regret or even doing something in haste that we’ve forgotten about…but are faced with the consequences of, years later.

I’d describe this as a kind of, casserole of a book…a slow starter where a lot of things happen at the outset but then not a great deal happens throughout, but what does happen is important to the protagonist and the narrative. If you take out the mysterious suicide and related events…this book deals quite nicely with the themes of time and memory and there are lots of elements that we can empathise with, even if we aren’t nearing the end of our lives…the moments of childish confusion at school, saying things in haste that we subsequently regret and also, Tony embodies the fear that we all have of finding ourselves aged and wrinkled without having made the impact on life that we had aspired to do as children…the fear that we will grow old and regret not making enough of our lives…

‘Before I go to sleep’

Holy Moly!!!!

I was completely unprepared for this book! It was recommended to me by a colleague who had listened to the audio book on Radio 4 and I was intrigued! So, having a kindle…I bought the book there and then and began reading it on my way home that night – wow! Now, I always go on about loving crime fiction and finding it hard to be surprised by books…this completely blew that out of the water! I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen, only for it to be completely shattered! It’s quite hard to put this book into a genre but I’d go for psychological thriller fiction?

What I also love about this book is that it is S J Watson’s first novel, which gives budding writers (like me…yes I’ve been very lazy recently…) a burst of inspiration! As I write this, the novel remains at number one in the book charts!

Anywho, this is another book that has done remarkably well in the charts for good reason! It is a cracking read! Our protagonist is Christine Lucas, a 47 year old amnesiac who wakes up each day convinced that she is a twenty-something at the start of her life. Each morning, her memory is wiped clean from the night before…now, I think you must have already realised that there is A LOT more to the novel than this ‘50 First Dates‘ – esque narrative. As the plot develops, Christine finds that there is a lot more to her life than she knows or is being told…

This book focuses heavily on the concept and importance of memories and how they define us. We never think about what would happen if we couldn’t remember things, whether we’d still be the person we think we are, whether we would still feel the same way about loved ones…for Christine, she must learn who she has become every day and who her husband is! Ben has to tell her who he is, who she is and explain about the accident that caused her to lose her memory and effectively, her life. Another theme that takes centre-stage in the novel is the issue of trust…how do we really know who we can trust? So the two themes interweaving throughout the novel make for a tremendously exciting read!

At the start of the book, she receives a phone call from Dr Nash, who has apparently been working with her to try and retrieve her memories over the past few weeks…he tells her that she has been writing a journal in order to try and retain memories, which he currently has in his possession. She agrees to meet him and collect the journal and on the very front page in her handwriting are the following words:

“DON’T TRUST BEN!”

Dum dum dummmmmm!

As the novel progresses, the horrors that Christine faces everyday become more and more terrifying, you find yourself willing her to remember, pleading with the author for Christine to remember what has happened and what is happening but this moment seems less and less tangible as the narrative develops.

This is a fantastic chilling read and is really quite haunting as both a novel and a concept! I couldn’t put it down! I’ve recommended it to so many people already but will continue to do so! I’m really looking forward to reading more from S J Watson in the future!

‘War Horse’

With all the publicity surrounding the film and various colleagues talking about the play, I just had to read War Horse before I saw either of them. Fortunately, having a kindle means that if I finish a book before I expect to…I already have another one ready to start! This is why I finished Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the same day as starting Bossypants – a strange mix, I can tell you!

Anyway, I am currently making my way through a paperback copy of The Chalk Girl but as I was travelling to see my Grandad this weekend, I didn’t have room in my bag for it. So, I started War Horse and was quite surprised at how short a novel it was! I thought it would be a huge book that I could dive into on my way back to London but I actually finished it on my way to Surrey.

Michael Morpurgo’s book is a wonderful read! Although I knew the plot (vaguely!) from the trailers…they didn’t really scratch the surface of the narrative. This book is a touching story of love and friendship, set against the harshest background available…war.

Told from Joey (the horse)’s perspective, at the outset we learn how he came to be Albert’s horse…unlike other books that are from one perspective only (*cough* Room *cough*), this is absolutely enchanting! Soon after settling into life on Albert’s family farm, the country is ripped apart by war and Albert’s father sells Joey to the Army.

What follows in the narrative is a tale of courage, bravery and unfaltering love. If you haven’t yet read this, but you are planning to go to the play at the National Theatre or are checking out Spielberg’s film…please try and read this first. It is a short novel but it is truly a delight to read!

‘Room’

This is another book that I’d been recommended countless times…from friends who I don’t even normally talk about books with…so I thought I’d give it a go…

I know there has been a LOT of hype over this book…and I know it won the Man Booker…

…but I didn’t enjoy it! I quite liked about 30% of it (thanks Kindle!)…but it was uncomfortable reading, more so than any crime novel I’ve read. I found it very fast-paced and I was (somewhat reluctantly) being pulled along with the storyline, right up until they escape. After which point, I found it really hard to read…although it was quite nice at first that it was told from Jack’s perspective, this soon grated on me and it would have been nice to switch perspectives between Jack and Ma. There were just lots of this book that I found irritating…I think it’s a really interesting book, but I felt quite distant from the characters, maybe this was a stylistic ploy to remind us that they are in the room and we are out of the room or to try and reflect the isolation onto the reader but…I just didn’t really like it.

I also think that maybe we shouldn’t have been told that they escape in the synopsis, this might have added to the tension when this happens…it was quite annoying that this happened at more or less exactly 50% of the way through the book…because it does make you wonder, well, where is it going now?! Where can it go now?! I also found myself not particularly warming to the character Ma, I had empathised (as much as one can) with her throughout the first half but as soon as they escaped, I found her very hard going…

Anywho, I’m glad that so many others liked it and it is definitely a unique book! It’s just not for me…